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10:09AM

The game was great, but down the stretch the Warriors were not

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant studied the final stat sheet and listened to the questions. “I thought both teams played great,” he said, as much to himself as to the media facing him.

That they did. It was just that the Houston Rockets played a little greater.

Give Durant credit. He was out there, in the middle, so to speak, making baskets, missing shots, running, leaping, falling and, with his teammates, losing.

And yet he was moved by more than the final result, the Houston Rockets defeating the Warriors 135-134 on a 3-point basket with one second left by, whom else, James Harden.

Say what you want, that the Dubs, who were up by 20 in the first minute of the third quarter, blew the game; that Harden with yet another triple double (44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) is unstoppable; that Golden State will be in trouble in the playoffs.

But if you love basketball, you have to appreciate what took place in the Dubs’ first home appearance of the new year, a meeting of the two teams who battled for seven games in last year’s Western Conference final — the change in momentum, the big baskets down the stretch, the reminder that in sports nothing is certain, even a huge second-half lead by the back-to-back NBA champions.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was less magnanimous than Durant. “I thought we had control of the game,” said Kerr. “We had a six-point lead with the ball and would have liked to have seen us get better shots.”

And have liked to have seen the Rockets, who now have won both games on the season schedule, get less successful shots.

“They came out swinging,” Kerr said of the Rockets after intermission. “They scored, I think, 18 points in the first four minutes. Our defense was really poor. Our offensive execution was really lacking.” 

And Harden, the bearded wonder who had his fifth straight 40-point game and second triple double of the week, was really, well, being James Harden.

“He just did what he always does,” said Kerr. “He’s the master of isolation, the step-back three and drawing fouls. I thought we did a really good job of keeping him off the line (Harden was 8-of-9 on free throws) for the most part. He made an impossible shot at the end. Just an incredible performance. Give him all the credit he deserves.”

And give the Warriors another loss in a meaningful game at the Oracle, where in some two-plus months they’ve flopped against Oklahoma City, Toronto, Milwaukee, the Lakers and now Houston.

“Down the stretch we were missing shots,” said Durant, who scored 26 points but only two in the third quarter. Steph Curry led the Warriors with 35, while Klay Thompson had 26.

“But I don’t think down the stretch is the reason we lost,” Durant added. “I just felt we let our foot off the gas a little bit in the third quarter. They knocked down some shots. But James shot 23 threes tonight. That’s a lot of three pointers.”

Including the game winner. “James wouldn’t have had to make that shot,” said Thompson, “if we just played the way we were supposed to in the second half. The ball movement got stagnant.”

For the Rockets, the ball moves in Harden’s hands.

“He can get any shot he wants,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “His threat is getting to the rim any time he wants. I don’t think we’ve seen the likes of this offense and the explosion he has.”

Harden got pummeled in the first quarter and left the game for a few minutes. “I was a little dizzy in the beginning,” he said, “but it’s a big-time game for us.”

During the day, broadcasters at ESPN debated whether the game was more important for the Warriors or for the Rockets, a bit silly but time-filling.

Asked why he’s so difficult to guard, Harden candidly pointed out, “I think it’s the separation I create, and once I create the separation you can’t really recover. You have to let me shoot or hit my elbow. There’s not much you can do about it.”

Except, as did Kevin Durant, contend that you played in a great game.

7:54PM

Warriors’ dynasty depends on keeping Durant

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — That adage, you never know what you had until you lost it? Well, the Warriors don’t have to lose Kevin Durant — as so many believe may happen — to understand what a talent and leader he is.

Who knows what Durant is thinking? He will be a free agent when this season ends, and in New York the hope is that he’ll sign with the Knicks. Unless, as others say, he’ll join LeBron James to return the Lakers to greatness.

But what I’m thinking is the Warriors can’t afford to lose him. Not if they want to continue this success, which is growing into a dynasty.

On Monday night, Durant was, to quote his coach, Steve Kerr, “Incredible, incredible.” He scored 49 points, and the Warriors, down by 18 at one point, beat the Orlando Magic, 116-110. That was after he scored 44 on Saturday night in the win over Sacramento.

“The guy is just amazing,” said Kerr.

So is Steph Curry, but for the last nine games, Curry was unable to play because of a groin injury; he certainly was active as an unofficial cheerleader, waving his arms and shouting gleefully as the Warriors rallied.

So is Klay Thompson, who had 29 against Orlando, 19 in the fourth quarter.

So is Draymond Green, also out with a toe injury. He is the so-called spiritual leader of the Warriors, emotional and confrontational, whose attitude and style irritated Durant — and from the way Draymond was suspended for a game, a loss of $120,480 — irritated management.

The Warriors have something special going, as do the New England Patriots, as did the 49ers of the ’80s, the Raiders of the ’70s and ’80s, the Athletics of the ’70s, something rare and wonderful in team sport. A dominance.

It will end eventually, of course, so the trick is to extend the winning as long as possible, to retain the players who are the core of this success until, inevitably, they grow too old.

Curry is a two-time MVP — and on ESPN’s “The Jump” Paul Pierce said Curry at this point should win the award again. Durant is another former league MVP. Over the last couple of weeks, after the dust-up with Draymond and Curry’s injury, there’s no question Durant is the Warrior savior.

He is the reason the Dubs turned a four-game losing streak into a three-game win streak.

“He just kind of knew he just had to put us on his shoulders,” Kerr said Durant. “It’s not just the point totals. It’s the defense.”

Durant, in effect, is a 6-foot-10 point guard. He can dribble and drive. He can shoot inside or outside (he was 16 of 33 on Monday night). He is tireless, playing nearly 40 minutes against the Magic. He can block shots, as he blocked two down the stretch.

Asked if he had regained his offensive rhythm over the last few games, Durant shook his head. “Nah,” he said, “I should have gone for a 50-piece.” 

He only missed by one.

“I felt I had some shots that I wish I could have made last game and this game," he added. “I felt two or three of my (missed) threes looked good leaving my hand. I could be in a better groove.”

As they leave for a road trip that begins Thursday in Toronto against the Raptors, who have the best record in the NBA, the Warriors seem to have their groove back. And soon, they’ll get Curry and Draymond back.

“Two guys that are champions, All-Stars, you name it,” said Durant, himself a champion and All-Star.

“I thought Quinn (Cook) was doing a great job filling in,” Durant pointed out. “Quinn is learning a lot from Steph. When Steph gets back and Quinn still has the confidence, I think that’s going to be the key. And Draymond’s intensity. You can just tell by looking at him on the bench, he’s like a caged animal over there. Can’t wait to have him back.”

He’ll be back any day now. The real question is whether next season Kevin Durant will be back. It won’t be the same without him.

7:45PM

No panic visible from Warriors; is it hidden by the smoky air?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — You stop by Warriors practice and expect to see a lot of panic — that is, if panic is visible through the smoky, unhealthy air — but you’re disappointed.

There’s Kevin Durant, ignoring his $25,000 fine for “directing inappropriate language toward a fan” in Dallas and ignoring the media, popping jumper after jumper.

There’s Steph Curry, who seemingly is unable to stand up and definitely won’t be in Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma City, bouncing balls off his head in a soccer routine.

And there’s head coach Steve Kerr, loser of three in a row for the first time since who knows when, sitting behind a microphone and in front of the cameras, and handling every question the way his team of late has not been handling the basketball: smoothly.

For the Warriors, this was the week when if the sky didn’t fall it sank a little, unlike the Warriors' field goal attempts at San Antonio. When the façade of love and understanding had a few holes. When Kerr, who Tuesday pointed out he was trying to defuse the situation with his comment, saying, “This is the real NBA.”

The league of big men and big egos, of small mistakes that decide games, of teams so balanced that a good shot or a bad bounce is often the difference in a game — although it’s invariably the better team that makes the good shot.

“We haven’t been in the real NBA the past couple of years,” was Kerr’s addition to the opening statement, after the defeat at San Antonio on Sunday night. “We’ve been in this dream, and now we’re faced with adversity.”

Meaning the groin injury to Curry, who when he's on the court can decide any game from any distance; meaning the toe injury to Draymond Green, of whom Kerr said, “This guy’s been so good; we’re not hanging any banners without him.” Meaning, certainly, the feud (or dust-up, or contretemps, if you will) between Green and Durant in L.A. a week ago. Meaning the frequent references to Durant’s impending free agency and rumored departure to the Knicks, or worse, the Lakers.

Sometimes the best view is from a distance.

Marc Stein, the longtime NBA observer now writing his perceptions for the New York Times, said, “Crisis is probably too strong a word, given that they remain prohibitive favorites to win the championship in June, but the Warriors have been undeniably wounded by a spate of injuries and last week’s sideline spat between All-Star forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.”

The injuries will heal, or at least one expects them to heal, but who knows about the rift? Nobody on the Warriors wants to discuss it.

“Don’t ask me that again,” Durant responded to the San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Medina after the loss against Houston in the opener of the lose-them-all three-game trip in Texas. So nobody did. From the Bay Area media.

But when the Dubs hit the road again, Durant will be hit by that question again, whether it’s unfair or not. The subject is out there, and it’s not going to go away, until — Warriors fans, take a deep breath — Kevin goes away.

This is November, miles away from the playoffs. And from the end of Durant’s contract. What the Warriors need at the moment is to play the defense they have been playing and the offense they haven’t been — at least in getting routed by Milwaukee at home and being held to 92 points in San Antonio.

“Without Steph and Draymond,” said Kerr, “we can’t get away with things we do when we have them. We were 10-1. Last year, we were the best team defensively of any in the playoffs.

“We have been on a run over a four-year stretch. Nobody ever won as many games as we have the last four years. There’s been a lot of things going right for us.”

Right now, they’re going quite wrong.

9:40AM

Durant on dust-up with Draymond: ‘Spit happens in the NBA’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant, who often has the answers, this time had a question. “Anyone want to ask about basketball?” he wondered, his words paced as if trying to run down the clock.

Not on this Tuesday night, not after this game, when it wasn’t so much the men who were in the lineup for the Warriors for their 110-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

But the man who wasn’t, Draymond Green.

Oh, he was in the lineup of the game notes on the press table, that document having been created before Warriors management, specifically general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr, suspended Green for a non-punch dust-up with Durant after Monday night’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.

But by game time Tuesday, when as proclaimed by the badges worn by some Warriors employees — none of them players — the Dubs recorded their 300th straight Oracle sellout, Draymond was not even in the building.

A little reprimand for the team’s emotional leader — as well as the loss of a day’s salary, roughly $120,000. ”I think what will be the hardest thing for him,” Myers said, “is not playing basketball (Tuesday) night.”

Myers, who played at UCLA and then was a players’ agent before he became the Warriors' GM, reminded, “Basketball is an emotional sport. These things happen.”

That they happened between Green, who has his fiery moments, and Durant, who at the end of the season will be a free agent and might be leaving for the New York Knicks, makes the incident more compelling. That’s two-fifths of a starting five from a franchise trying to win a third straight NBA title.

“I’m trying to move on,” said Durant. “Once the ball is tipped, nothing else matters. I think that’s the approach everyone takes. I want to keep this in house. I’m not trying to give nobody no headlines.”

What he was trying do Monday, in L.A., in the dying seconds of regulation, was get the ball from Green, who was bringing it down court and then let it slip away.

On Tuesday, Durant had more than enough, scoring a game-high 29 points, though he made only 9 of 23 field goal attempts. "Just night in and night out, you can pretty much mark down 25-30 points,” Kerr said about Durant, “whether he shoots the ball well or not. Because he’s going to get to the line.” Where he was 11 for 11.

Asked if he was surprised by Green’s suspension, Durant, in a classic sports response, said, “I was just focused on the game. I didn’t care either way.”

Durant and Green did not communicate Tuesday, but the Warriors leave Wednesday for Houston. Both KD and Draymond will be on the same plane, in the same hotel and on the same court.

“His presence has been part of this team for a while before I got here,” Durant said of Green. “He has been a huge staple in the organization. But that’s what happens in the NBA. Spit happens. I just try my best to move on and be a basketball player. I got nothing else to do but be the best player I can be every single day.”

As Quinn Cook, who started at guard in place of the injured Steph Curry, pointed out, “I think we’re all professionals. We love each other. We’re together eight months a year. We’re like brothers. Brothers fight. We have a common goal. We’re going to get past this.”

Jonas Jerebko started in place of the absent Green, scoring 14 points, making four three-pointers and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. “Jonas was great,” said Kerr, who was going to praise the man whether or not he deserved it — and he deserved it. “He was our MVP tonight.”

Klay Thompson got 24 points, as well as some observations. “We just want to play basketball,” he said. “This game wasn’t about what happened (Monday) night. We wanted to put on a show for the fans. I’m happy we got the win tonight. This is not about personal agendas. We win Thursday and then Saturday (Dallas) and Sunday (San Antonio), this will be in the past.”

A reference was made to the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, when the legendary star got into fracas with a teammate named Steve Kerr.

“When you play at a very high level, things happen,” allowed Kerr. “And I kicked MJ’s ass.”

4:32PM

Durant: I was in the league before I got to the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — He was up there alone, confronting the questions, some that Kevin Durant obviously thought were unnecessary. Most times, he is joined for interviews after games by Steph Curry, and Durant will thumb through the stats while Curry ruminates.

But this was a day before the NBA finals, the fourth in succession for the Warriors — and Cavaliers — the second in a row for Durant. He was on his own, as in a way he was in Game 3 of last year’s finals when in the closing minutes Golden State trailed the Cavs.

Durant threw in a 3-pointer, the Cleveland lead was gone, and in a way so were the Warriors, headed to a 3-0 lead in games. It was as big a shot as Durant has made in his career, but as he emphatically reminded Wednesday, it hardly was the only shot.

Asked Wednesday whether he defined his career as divided before that game and after that game, Durant quickly answered, “No, no.”

For an excellent reason.

He was the league MVP in 2014, an all-star eight times.

He was so sought-after as a free agent in the summer of 2016, Warriors players met him in a residence on Long Island — the Hampton Five, they came to be named, including their quarry — to persuade him to sign with Golden State, which he did.

Then came another question that displayed his controlled impatience, one about developing a short memory about missed shots and other difficulties. “Was that something you picked up recently … something you had to learn over the course of your career?”

“Well, this is my 11th year,” he said with a trace of sarcasm. “I know a lot of people probably didn’t watch me play before I got to the Warriors. But I was in the league before I got here, and I learned a lot along that time. I actually won an MVP award. I went to the Olympics. Scored a couple of points.”

A couple. More like 20,000 plus. And as we learned the last couple years, Durant is an excellent defender. As certainly are Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and other Warriors, including the injured Andre Iguodala.

When Durant joined the Warriors, he had to know — and definitely knows now — it’s Steph Curry’s team. You see Curry’s No. 30 jerseys everywhere. You see him on commercials. Durant doesn’t seem to mind.

He plays his game — a 6-foot-9 forward who shoots and dribbles like a guard, and rebounds like a 7-footer. Against Houston in the Western Conference finals, when Curry wasn’t bringing the ball down court, it was Durant.

The story has been told. Growing up fatherless near Washington, D.C., Durant was mentored by a recreation director, Charles “Chucky“ Craig, who at age 35 was gunned down in one of those senseless killings. Durant wears that number, 35, in honor of Craig.

“Every time I see it, it’s an instant reminder,” Melvin McCray, another one of Durant’s childhood coaches, told the New York Times.

Every time we see Durant, we see an individual whose story is rarely heard, other than being offered in the numbers of basketball games. Durant is quiet. He lets others tell his tale. Until requested.

Some wondered whether it was good for the NBA to have the same two teams in the finals every year — it’s only been four straight years, but the thought is understood.

“Yeah,” he responded, “I think it’s great. It’s great. You want me to elaborate?”

Of course we did.

“Well,” Durant continued, “you get just get a great set of players on the court. I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for.

“I think this is a great display of basketball on the court from both sides, and if you're a real lover of the game, you can enjoy how both teams play it, even though it may be different. It's still organic and true to the game, pure to the game. So if you enjoy basketball, I don't feel like you should have any complaints because it's a great set of players on both teams.”

One of whom is Kevin Durant.